By Josh Brown
COVINGTON — Covington isn’t used to playing opponents that can drive, grind and run the clock the way it can.
Troy Christian hadn’t seen a team that could come close to matching its speed and quick-strike capability.
Both the Buccaneers and Eagles used each other’s own strengths against the other Friday night at Covington High School, but the Buccs got a key stop on defense right before halftime then connected on a 68-yard touchdown pass from Nathan Blei to Ethan Herron early in the third, a sequence that proved to be the difference in a 28-14 Covington victory.
The Covington (4-1) defense was the star of the game, though, holding a prolific running back in check for the second straight week. Last week, Bethel’s Josh Wills entered the game with more than 800 yards in three games and was held under 100 by the Buccs. And Friday, Troy Christian’s Luke Dillahunt came in with 200-plus-yard games in all three tries this season, but Covington didn’t allow him to break a run longer than 13 yards all night and keeping him out of the end zone.
“We were just two clicks off on offense all night,” Troy Christian coach Steve Nolan said. “We had some kids missing, we missed open receivers in the passing game. We still moved the ball and stayed with them, but we’ve got to be more consistent finding those open receivers.”
On the game’s opening possession, Covington’s Coleman Ryan intercepted a Hayden Hartman pass on third-and-long to give the Buccs a short field at their own 49, and they took care of that distance with a nine-play scoring drive. Quarterback Nathan Blei faked a handoff up the middle, kept it himself and weaved his way into the end zone from 17 yards out to make it 7-0 Covington.
Dillahunt broke a 10-yard run for a first down on the first play of the ensuing drive, but the Buccs held on the next three plays and forced a punt. They then took the ball 69 yards on six plays — including a 13-yard run by Jared Williams with a 15-yard facemask penalty tacked on — and Ethan Herron took a pitch 20 yards untouched for a touchdown on the next play to give the Buccs a 14-0 lead.
Troy Christian (3-1) finally got moving at the end of the first quarter and into the second, embarking on a 15-play, 65-yard drive. The Eagles converted three third downs along the way, including a 10-yard run by Dillahunt on third-and-10, and the Eagles drove all the way to the Bucc 1. A holding call on second-and-goal pushed them back to the 13, though, but a run by Hartman and a 7-yard touchdown pass from Hartman to Chase Hayden on third-and-goal cut the Covington lead in half, 14-7. The drive took a total of eight minutes off the clock — a typical Covington-esque drive.
The Eagles forced a three-and-out and got the ball back at their own 39, driving it to the Covington 34 with a minute to go in the half. But the Buccs’ Zach Barnes and Brandon Magee combined on a sack — one of four key sacks on the night for the Covington defense — and the Eagles had to settle for a punt and a seven-point deficit at the half.
“We were missing one of our starting tackles, so our pass protection was not where it normally is,” Nolan said. “That hurt us. We had to move some guys in — but that’s just typical middle-of-the-season stuff. That’s just part of the game, and you have to deal with it.”
On the first possession of the second half, Covington quarterback Blei threw his first and only pass of the game, a 68-yard touchdown to Herron that gave the Buccs some breathing room, 21-7.
Troy Christian began its next drive at its own 17, and another sack — this one by Barnes and Ben Kuether on a hit that knocked Hartman’s helmet off back the Eagles up to the 10. But a roughing-the-punter penalty on fourth down gave Troy Christian an automatic first down, and they marched the football the rest of the way down the field. Hartman hit Hayden with a 19-yard touchdown pass to cap it off on the second play of the fourth quarter, and the Covington lead was again only seven.
Jared Williams changed that, though. After a couple of decent five-to-10-yard runs, he broke a 35-yard touchdown run to give Covington a two-score lead and put the game away. The Eagles were forced to punt on their next two possessions, and the Buccs were able to run out the clock.
“We had guys open all night in the passing game, but we weren’t consistent in finding them,” Nolan said. “Our passing game just wasn’t as good as it has been, and throwing that pick on the first possession of the game didn’t help. But we’ll get better at some things. We’ve got some things to work on, but we’ll get back at it and get back to where we need to be.”
Williams finished with 113 yards on 12 carries to lead Covington. Herron added 55 yards and a score on seven carries to go with his touchdown catch, and Blei had 34 yards on eight carries.
It was the first time since Week 1 that Covington has passed for yardage — the Buccs had five passing yards in their loss to St. Henry, and haven’t had any since.
Covington returns to Cross County Conference play in Week 6 at home against Tri-County North, while Troy Christian will return home to host Ansonia.
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.